Monday was pretty rough. My daughter came in from her normal morning check of the chickens and ducks and said, “I think Frances was attacked.”
Out I rushed, and my daughter led me to the trail of feathers, the splatters of blood, the slaughtered but uneaten carcass of our female duck, Frances. Her neck was mauled and her intestines were splayed across the leaf litter like knucklebones at a fortune teller’s parlor.
Frances had been sitting a clutch of eggs, just at that stage where she was ignoring most everything else. She had found a spot inside the protection of the raspberry canes, and we had dithered, trying to figure out how to protect her in this location.
We dithered too long, but I could not dwell on that now. The recrimination and tears and guilt (sitting duck, sitting duck, goddamnit never again….) would have to wait until later.
For now, I had her genetics to consider. Her clutch of 8 eggs was unmolested, so I gathered the eggs and started making general pleas: “Does anyone have an incubator? It’s an emergency.”
My neighbors came through within about 20 minutes, passing their mini-incubator over the back fence. This is all further proof that the greatest emergency preparedness tool we can have is a decent community around us.
I set up the incubator and poured in the water and in went Frances’ eggs. It was all we could do now. The important thing was the genetics.
Are the eggs viable? Will they grow? Will the incubator be sufficient? I’ll know more in a week.
Tuesday my husband called me over to his computer. He had pulled up the publication date of the last duck update (duck-date?). 4 weeks ago I’d talked about Minkie’s broodiness.
“Ducklings should be hatching soon.” He was trying to cheer me up.
The death of Frances made Minkie’s successful hatch feel even more important. A month ago I had slipped 4 of Frances’ eggs into Minkie’s nest, so if Minkie was successful at hatching out her clutch, chances were excellent that some of the genetics of the ducklings would be from Frances.
To protect Minkie yet leave her undisturbed on her nest, we had built a cage of hardware cloth around her nest and placed fake “predator eye” lights around the cage.
These precautions seemed to be enough, but we went out to make sure the mesh enclosure was as secure as possible. When I got close to the nest, Minkie stood and backed off her nest long enough for me to see a tiny, fluffy duckling.
Just one, surrounded by brother and sister eggs. But one is a very good start.
This picture is a still from a short movie I posted on Facebook of the new baby duckling. See the full short video here.
Keep your fingers crossed for us over these next few days, won’t you?35
Damn. I didn’t realize your other duck was sitting too. So the first duck you reported on a few weeks ago is OK and she is the one with the hatching ducklings (as of yesterday)?
I’m so sorry you lost Frances. I hate raccoons, and I’ve never to my knowledge lost a chicken to one yet (coyotes are my nemesis)…I just remember from my time working at a Veterinarian’s office….how badly cats would be torn apart by a raccoon.
It’d be hard not to want to camp out right next to her little nest and protect her and the new duckling(s)….hopefully another couple will hatch to join that little fluff ball.
Correct: Minkie (brown duck) is the “Curious Case of the Missing Duck” duck, and she is fine and has at least one mini-clucker under her. Frances (white and grey) only went broody later, like maybe a week ago, and she’s the one who was killed. Yeah. That was really shitty. I was this close to writing off ducks – even though I like them a lot more than chickens – because they are just way more vulnerable than chickens and it tears me up to lose one. But the duckling re-lit my fire. Hoping the little fluffies under Minkie all hatch and we can continue the genetics. That’s the most important thing to me now.
I an upset for you and for your duck! Horrible! Painful too. Ouch.
Now, some thoughts – a raccoon is not going to forget your place soon. Again may I suggest application of predator pee temporarily? Once when we had visiting raccoons we had just taken down a locust tree – we laid down layers of the spiked branches were in the pathways we though that the raccoons traveled into and out of our fenced yard, their claws left marks on the fences as they clambered over. This worked well. Some old blackberry canes might work too, laid down across each other, thick enough to be a deterrent.
Chicken wire laid down flat under the canes would prevent the canes from rooting and make the access even more tenuous for the raccoons. FWIW
The predator pee is a good idea. We abut a green space, so there’s really way to keep them out of the yard – and for sure they will keep coming back. I’ve had an entire family look at me through my back patio windows before. Just like, “Hey, we are five racoons. What’s up?” I’ll see about getting some on Amazon.
I am so sorry for your loss. It is heartbreaking. We lost some chickens to a raccoon and it came back every night for a long time after that. Do be careful.
Laura @ Raise Your Garden says
Honestly, this was such a sad start to me day! I’m so depressed now. I really hoping the rest of the babies make it. Those awful raccoons. We struggle with fox here! SO m any of them. And coyote’s are even worse.
Sorry Laura! There are at least two little peepy voices from under mom, and the eggs in the incubator are viable – they are developing veins from the yolk really nicely.
Thank you Pamina.
Awww, how heartbreaking. But isn’t that just like nature to give you hope right in the middle of despair? I’m sorry for your awful loss, and yay for babies, to remind us that life goes on.
Fingers crossed. It’s a very nervous period right now.
Bill W. says
If the duck’s head was still attached and the duck mostly uneaten, you are probably dealing with a cat rather than a raccoon. Raccoons have some signature moves and removing the head and gnawing on it is one of them. In my experience, they will always eat the eggs before the duck when they get one sitting as well. They also typically take the carcass with them and you find nothing but a head and some feathers. Cats, on the other hand, will mess up a duck really badly and then not eat much of it and never eat the eggs.
So, keep an eye out for Ms. Fluffy the outdoor cat. She’ll be one of your biggest problems with suburban ducks.
Shit. You might be right. We used to have 3 cats. 2 of them have succumbed to old age, and as our one remaining boy has gotten older I’ve noticed a lot more new cats moving into what was his territory. In fact, I saw a new-to-me cat perched up outside my bedroom window Sunday or Monday morning.
Damnit. Thanks for the heads up Bill.
Amy G says
I’m sorry about your duck. My mother had ducks for many years, and had problems with a fox now and then, had some egg theft from the skunks, but last year, some animal came and attacked them. After the first attack, they moved them into what was our playhouse growing up, in an attempt to keep them more secure. Unfortunately, the killer went under the building, found a weak spot in the floor, came in and slaughtered them all. They never caught the killer (and they had a trapper come and try) but it was probably a mink (they live in Vermont).
In all the years of ducks (since about 1983) and cats, once the babies grew past the little yellow duckling stage, none of hers were ever bothered by cats, and we had several cats and also fed the strays that would appear. Not saying it can’t happen, but in my opinion, that’s a pretty big bird for most domestic cats to attack.
Interesting point. The first flock of birds we had, one cat got to close to a hen and got the “big crazy flapping” treatment. Since then, none of my cats have ever bothered a duck or chicken. They just ignore them. But who knows – another comment suggested a night camera to get a better handle on the exact threats and that’s a good idea.
Minks sound terrible!
Debbie Gordon says
I will send a prayer for the little guys/gals present and coming and of course you in your grieving…..the circle of life seems so unfair sometimes!
Fingers crossed for little cluckers!!!
I’m so sorry to hear about this! I agree about the predator pee. Do you know anybody with a big dog? The best thing would be to borrow a dog that knows to leave ducks and ducklings alone for a few days, but even if you borrow a dog and walk them around on leash to let them pee a few places, that can help.
When we lost multiple hens to raccoons, our dog was just a puppy. Now I deliberately leave some poop in the wild back part of our yard, where nobody walks (but raccoons may lurk). I’m not sure what exactly stopped the predation: part was better securing at night, right at dusk, part was blocking their access to the space under a little shed right next door (hardware cloth was installed down into the ground by our neighbors), part was moving the chicken enclosure out of the corner of the property so that a predator has to cross two fences to get into the chicken pen, and part was probably the dog growing from 8lbs to now 87lbs.
When I was in Wisconsin, I never lost a hen for 8 years, until our female dog died, even though the birds were woefully unprotected. This wasn’t clear until a full year after Java died, when a raccoon came and killed 3 birds in one night. We had two dogs, one a big German Shepherd, but I guess the raccoon figured out he didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body after a year of scoping the place.
Years ago, we had an indoor/outdoor cat in Los Angeles, and raccoons were stealing his food. After I babysat my friend’s Great Dane, the nocturnal visits stopped. Not long after a roomate got a golden retriever, and that kept them away.
My neighbor has a big German Shepherd. I’ll see if I can get him to come over and mark our yard as his territory. Thank you for the nudge.
*&^#^#&##((#—-ing predators!!!! I’m so sorry that you had to discover the dead carcass. It’s awful.
The other day, I saw a raven in our pasture. Since a raven had killed a Guinea Hen at the same spot the week before, I knew this was a bas sign. Sure enough, he was sitting on top of another Guinea Hen. I sent him flying off with a lot of loud curse words and examined the hen. She was alive, looked confused. She ran from me, and then I saw that her back had been half eaten off. More curse words.
I managed to catch her with the help of my neighbor (hurray for community), locked her up in the chicken coop on top of some soft straw, and evaluated. An hour later my husband came home from work, and he put her out of her misery. I have slaughtered many meat chickens before, but couldn’t do it with this poor hen.
Terrible. I’m so sorry. It’s not the death per se – it’s the pain and fear. What a horrible experience.
We’ve had predators kill our free range turkey hens while they were nesting. The hens choose their spot and we hope for the best. One year we collected their eggs to break the nesting instinct and incubated them but it’s so much nicer and natural when they can do it by themselves. Some of the best mama’s have the strongest nesting instinct and are very determined. Good luck with those ducklings who hatch.
Thank you Debbie. We hope more ducklings are in our (and Minkie’s) future.
How is your daughter? Not too traumatized, I hope. That’s one of the downsides to urban agriculture…
She’s ok. Sadly, this is not the first animal – livestock or pet – we’ve had to bury.
Kat @ Where the Sidewalk Ends says
Oh my goodness, Erica, I am so terribly sorry. What a loss. Here I was this morning cursing the squirrels for stealing our chicken’s food (in spite of an electric poultry net which apparently they laugh at) and now I am thanking my blessings for their safety, at least for today. Keep us posted on the ducklings. We really want to get some ducks, but with a one month old and travel planned, it’s currently on the back burner.
I will let you know how it develops, for sure. Thank you!
Crossing all my fingers and toes. Love those little fluffers.
Me too! Thank you.
My sincere condolences. If it’s not birds flying in to our windows, or something killing our goose, or gophers killing two trees in the orchard this year, or voles eating down the newly planted veggie starts, then it’s our OWN rescue DOG who mortally wounded one of our hens who had escaped her coop for a brief amount of time. We tried our best, but she succumbed two days later. Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above the heavenly host, Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. (that just came to me as a sort of benediction in life and death.) Looking forward to more blessings with your ducklings!
Thank you for your kind words. Dogs and birds are a tricky mix. 🙁
The Pocket Farmer says
A live animal trap might be the best way to see what has invaded your space. We thought we had a rat problem and even blamed our dogs when we lost a couple of chickens that were in a coop, inside of our dog enclosure. A night camera and a have-a-heart trap found we were dealing with a gutsy group of raccoons. We learned a valuable lesson in letting down our guard.
That’s a good idea. In our developed suburban area we have cats, raccoons, possums and (rather improbably) coyotes. More info never hurts.
Amy @ Tenth Acre Farm says
Oh Erica, I’m so sorry to hear this. I’ll be thinking of you guys during this time. Positive vibes for ducklings!
Thanks Amy. Me too – fingers crossed for the babies!
Susan Knilans says
I’m so sorry to hear this news, Erica. I’m curious why you feel that ducks are more vulnerable than chickens? I have two muscovy girls free-ranging in my yard. They put themselves to bed in a secure Costco chicken coop at night that sits just outside my bedroom window. Around the other corner of the yard, I have a wildlife feeding station, where I put a couple cups of dogfood out each night. I’ve seen as many as six raccoons out there at one time. I know these creatures and many others pass through my city yard at night, so I give them an easy place to grab a meal so they won’t come looking for something to maul. I’ve done this in several different places I’ve lived, and—finger’s crossed—never lost a fowl to them. I think dog food is just an easier meal than a struggling duck. I also have a dog who roams the yard and has chased cats and coons out of the yard, and I’m certain he has a good influence on our quackers’ survival.
I have one muscovy on 9 eggs at the moment (I get fertile ancona eggs from a friend, who will take the ducklings back when they are ready to leave mom), and my other duck is about to go broody. She is currently laying an egg a day in her “secret” nest in the bamboo. When she decides to start sitting her eggs, I’ll gather them all up along with her nest in a box and move her into the garden shed. And I’ll switch out her eggs for fertile ones. Everybody wins!
Muscovy ducks might be a bit different – I’ve never had them but my understanding is Muscovy’s can fly, roost and have some impressive talon action happening. Is that right? The Anconas I have are literal sitting ducks. They can’t really fly, they waddle kinda slowly, and they are just defenseless.
I like your plan for the swap-a-roo! Sounds great. 🙂
Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily says
Yes ducks are so vulnerable, especially a broody duck. So heartbreaking to think of her terror and pain in those last minutes. Always best to move a nest – even if the duck stops sitting (that’s what incubators are for: Plan B!) – for her and the eggs’ safety. Free ranging never ends well. Period. It only takes once and that one time is just so so sad. I find ducks far easier than chickens – but do pen all ours up because we routinely see foxes during the day and I would never leave any of them out and unprotected at night. Hope the ducklings do well.
You’re so right about this Lisa. Thank you.
Sorry to hear about the attack and loss.
Just a question about your repeated references to continuing the genetics. Is this out of respect/obligation to Frances or is there another reason for this that I am missing.
The breed – Ancona – is still quite rare. It’s becoming more popular, but the Livestock Conservancy still lists this breed as critically endangered. When we got our birds we took a drake because of the possibility of breeding. Our individual birds aren’t particularly wonderful representations of the breed – they are what you might call “pet quality” – but we love them and want to help and encourage the survival of the breed, even if it’s just at the super-local level.
Spring seems to be a time of hope for gardeners but a mixed-bag of joy and heartache for anyone who breeds livestock or poultry. I work with horses. One friend lost a foal early in the year. A second friend looked like she might lose a filly but she luckily rebounded.
May Minkie’s feathery little bottom bring the rest of your ducklings to life.
Thank you. We have our fingers crossed.
Adam Stevens says
Our hearts are breaking for you guys today. Predators suck.
So sorry for the loss. I have 2 flocks of ducks, 1 Muscovy and one a mixed group with Runner/Cayuga ducks and a Muscovy drake (I’m hoping for crossbreds for the freezer). The second group is being good about laying their eggs in their pen (the 3 hens are sharing 2 nests), but one of the Muscovy girls disappeared this morning and I’m sure she’s been collecting a clutch somewhere hidden (she has been getting out on a regular basis for the last couple of weeks). It’s scary having her out in the real world, and if I can find her I will move the nest back to her pen.
Yes, the Muscovies do have impressive claws, and they can climb as well as fly. I’ve had them climb the chicken wire wall of the pen in an effort to avoid being caught, and it’s impressive how quickly they can do it.
Good luck with your incubator eggs, and with Minkies’ brood too.
I’m so sorry, Erica. What a sad situation…not much to do now but wait, and perhaps stock up on that predator pee. Good luck to you and ducklings. May there be many of them!
Karen @ On the Banks of Salt Creek says
It is our geese they get. We started out with eight a year ago and now are down to three. Raccoon have a season you are allowed to hunt them. We were able to get a permit for off season hunting. They get the eggs and the geese.
So sorry for your loss ! As for it being a cat… I think he may be right. But I hope you can comfort yourself with the possibility that it was a lost and frightened housecat just trying to survive and get home. Neelix, my Maine Coon cat is my furry-baby. He was mostly indoor cat when he was intentionally picked up and dropped mile away ( in a city!) by wretched neighbors. I was beside myself, to the point that Human Resources at work sent a shrink to talk to me. Neelix didn’t know how to get home and was killing chickens to survive. Not knowing any better, he didn’t eat much and killed several before someone who was about to shoot him was stopped by their friend who remembered that there was a $50 reward for his return. He was never allowed out without a leash again.
Prayers for the eggs!